Mourning the Dead

When I was younger (before I graduated high school), one of my biggest fears was dying and having nobody remember me. It sounds weird, but I wanted to have one of those “everyone remembers where they were when they heard Jamie Snyder died” sort of deaths. I imagine people passing by my grave and not knowing who I was. I excelled in school, planning to be a famous movie star, writer or political figure. I worked hard for so many years, just so that I might be remembered.

In college I took a class called “The Psychology of Death and Dying,” and one of our first assignments was to go to a cemetery, walk around, take a few pictures and record our thoughts. The cemetery I visited for this assignment was the Sylvan cemetary in Citrus Heights, CA. Some of the headstones were rather telling as to the occupants’ lives, and some were not.

Side by side in one place are the obelisks for two brothers. One brother died in 1937 and has a tall, thin stone monument. The other brother died two years later. His monument is taller, thicker and darker. Sibling rivalry to the end.

In that same place, I found two headstones adornes with “Wheel of Fortune” wheels, one with a bingo card, mason decals, some with song lyrics, many with the requisite crosses and religious insignia, and one that still perplexes me to this day….

In the ground was a little note card, laminated into a steel plate grave marker. It was the kind of grave marker that is meant to serve only temporarily, while the decedant’s family is waiting for the “real” headstone to come back from the stonemason.

The card read…

Name: Armando Garcia
Date of Birth: October 22, 1896
Date of Death: March 4, 1947
Age:_______________

I know nothing about this man, but he lived for 51 years on this earth. Why does he still have the temporary grave marker? Was he poor, or did no one care? Why did the funeral home not even bother to do the simple math and figure out his age? If he died alone, why? Did he have a wife, children, anyone?

In the Woodland cemetery, a 15-year-old boy who died in 1984 has a dirt bike on his marker. His mother was visiting him when I saw it and I asked her about the dirt bike’s meaning. She said, “he had just gotten a job and was saving up for one.”

I’ve been going to cemeteries ever since. I’ve been to the Capay Valley cemetery and visited the graves of senators long since forgotten. I’ve taken pictures of a toddler’s marker carved with a teddy bear and the words “our sweet little dubberoo.” I’ve seen elaborate family tombs that have several spaces still available, seemingly abandoned by any surviving members.

More common is the joint headstone. The husband typically dies first, and his widow purchases the adjacent spot. it must be strange (maybe even comforting?) for a widow to visit her husband’s grave and think, “this is where I will be buried.”

Will anyone bother with any of this when I am gone? Maybe no one needs to. The mysteries are so much more interesting.

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~ by jamiesnydertv on April 21, 2009.

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